Become a Holistic Health Counselor – Education & Licensure Guide
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Treating just one aspect of a client’s issues is sometimes not enough for a practitioner. Therapists who want to take a comprehensive approach that includes caring for a client’s emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being should consider branching out into a career as a holistic health counselor.
The integrative approach used by holistic health counselors can help clients obtain optimal wellness rather than just treating one symptom at a time. For example, a client who has cancer will need care from an oncology team but can also benefit from a nutritionist, alternative medicine provider, and a holistic health counselor who will help them consider all the alternatives.
Most holistic health counselors are licensed mental health therapists who have completed a master’s degree in counseling, completed supervised work hours, and hold a license to practice in their state.
In addition to counseling education, holistic health counselors may have training in complementary treatments such as massage therapy, nutrition, acupuncture, nursing, Chinese medicine, and more. If a holistic health counselor can’t provide the additional services needed, they will refer their client to trusted practitioners and coordinate with them to produce comprehensive care.
Mental health counselors, including holistic health counselors, are in high demand, with an estimated 25 percent growth in jobs in this field between 2019 and 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021). An increased number of insured Americans, as well as a higher rate of referral to counseling versus incarceration for drug offenders, are the primary reasons for this uptick.
The goal of holistic health counseling is to care for the entire patient. If that sounds like an exciting career path, keep reading to learn what it takes to enter this profession.
How to Become a Holistic Health Counselor
The path to becoming a holistic health counselor is unique to each practitioner and specialty. However, most holistic health counselors have received education and training as mental health counselors or similar fields. They have also completed additional education in a complementary field to be able to provide more comprehensive care to their clients.
Fields that holistic health counselors may choose to pursue can include massage therapy, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, naturopathy, reiki, and even nursing. The degrees, certifications, and training a holistic health counselor completes can vary widely depending on personal interests, relationships with other practitioners, and what skills they already have.
Regardless of the education and training completed, holistic health counselors must be invested in examining all aspects of a client’s health, including mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Education of a Holistic Health Counselor
Education for holistic health counselors can take many different paths.
In order to practice as a mental health counselor, aspiring holistic health counselors will need to complete a master’s in counseling. Not only is a master’s necessary to provide quality patient care, but it is also required for state licensing. Holistic health counselors should look for programs that teach multiple counseling modalities or offer complementary education programs.
One program holistic health counselors should consider is the master’s of arts clinical mental health counseling: holistic studies at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This two-year program meets the requirements for state licensure and trains students to care for the whole client, not just the mental health side. Required holistic courses include counseling and spirituality, theories of holistic counseling, and psychology of illness and wellness. In addition to classroom coursework, students complete supervised clinical work experiences to gain hands-on skills working directly with clients.
Students should ensure that the counseling program they attend is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Many states require that candidates complete a CACREP accredited program in order to be eligible for licensing.
Complementary skills, necessary for many holistic counselors, will require additional education. For example, massage school, a master’s in naturopathy, a doctorate in acupuncture, or a certificate in reiki are all programs holistic counselors could complete. This additional education can take anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the level of education completed and degree pursued.
Current licensed mental health therapists wanting to transition to holistic health counseling can complete short certificate courses or continuing education programs in order to learn more about this modality. For example, the Zur Institute offers a six-hour continuing education course for licensed counselors in holistic psychotherapy.
Supervised Hour Requirements for a Holistic Health Counselor
All holistic health counselors who provide mental health services must complete a required number of supervised work hours. The number of hours required varies by state and can be anywhere from 1,500 on the low to 4,000 on the high end.
For example, in Oregon, aspiring holistic health counselors providing mental health services must complete 2,400 hours of direct client contact work experience over the course of three years.
In addition to the hours required for licensure, students will typically complete a minimum 100-hour practicum and 600-hour internship as part of the education program. At Lesley University, for example, students will earn more than that with either a 700-hour and 1,300-hour internship.
Licensure of a Holistic Health Counselor
Mental health therapists providing holistic health counseling services must be licensed to practice in all 50 states. Licensing is often a two-step process with an initial, intern, or associate license issued first followed by a professional license upon completion of the required supervised work experience. Candidates will also have to pass some level of testing. The most common exam is the National Counselor Examination (NCE) from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Sometimes states will also require a jurisprudence exam.
In Colorado, licensed mental health therapists must first earn a Licensed Professional Counselor Candidates (LPCCs) license. The requirements for this license include a master’s degree from a CACREP accredited school, pay the licensing fee, and submit an online application. To become Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs), LPCCs must complete 2,000 hours of work experience, pass the NCE exam, and pass the Colorado Mental Health Profession’s Jurisprudence Examination.
Most complementary services holistic health counselors provide will also require additional licensing or certification. Some of these are state licenses that require students to apply to the state licensing board, while others are certifications issued by boards or national agencies. Here are some of the most common additional certifications held:
- Licensed massage therapist
- Registered nurse
- Diplomate of Acupuncture
- Diplomate of Chinese Herbology
- National Ayurvedic Medical Association Certification Board certification
The American Association of Drugless Practitioners offers board certification as a holistic health practitioner. This voluntary certification is available to any doctor or practitioner who practices drugless therapies. Certification costs $285 for the initial certification and $150 for renewals.
Holistic Health Counselor Licensure Renewal Requirements
Licensed mental health counselors who provide holistic health counseling must renew their licenses according to their state’s guidelines. Timelines can vary from one to five years. Renewal requirements will vary by state but often include a completed application, an updated background check, a renewal fee, and verification of completion of a required number of continuing education hours.
Some of the continuing education hours must meet specific content requirements as well as requirements about self-study versus in-person coursework. Nevada, for example, requires 40 hours of continuing education each year. Of those 40 hours, six must be in ethics, and four must be in suicide prevention. At least half of the continuing education hours must be taken in person or in a live webinar where it is possible to interact with the presenter and other participants.
The requirements for continuing education hours are frequently updated, so licensed counselors should check with their local boards to ensure they take the appropriate classes in the required timeline. These changes can be permanent or temporary due to extenuating circumstances such as the global coronavirus pandemic. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Oregon Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists offered an extension. It required 80 hours of continuing education in two years versus their standard requirement of 40 hours every year.
What Do Holistic Health Counselors Do?
Holistic health counselors provide a variety of services to their clients. They can work in hospitals, clinics, mental health rehabilitation centers, and in their own private practice. Services can vary widely based on the education completed and what complementary health services a provider may offer. Day-to-day duties can include:
- Scheduling clients for mental health therapy appointments
- Meeting one-on-one with clients to provide psychotherapy
- Assessing a client’s well being not just based on their mental health but also their physical, spiritual, and emotional status
- Recommending and educating clients on additional care services such as nutrition, exercise, sleep patterns, meditation, lifestyle, and medical care that may benefit them
- Coordinating with other care providers to provide holistic care to a client
- Administering alternative care such as reiki, massage therapy, or acupuncture
- Maintaining careful client records
How Much Do Holistic Health Counselors Make?
Holistic health counselors are most often classified as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020). Wages for these professionals are the following:
- Number employed in the U.S.: 293,620
- Average annual salary (mean): $51,550
- 10th percentile: $30,590
- 25th percentile: $36,950
- 50th percentile (median): $47,660
- 75th percentile: $61,760
- 90th percentile: $78,700
Holistic Health Counselor Professional Associations & Resources
- American Association of Drugless Practitioners
- American Institute of Integrative Medicine
- American Alternative Medical Association
- American Association of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine
- American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
- American Holistic Health Association
- American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine
- American Institute of Homeopathy
- American Massage Therapy Association
- American Society of Clinical Hypnosis
- Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals
- Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine
- National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
- National Ayurvedic Medical Association